I’ve learned, and written a great deal about Aaron HaKohen Godol’s constancy of service in the Mishkan, the Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting in Bamidbar, the desert (the Mishkan being the forerunner of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem built by King Solomon) in the forty years following the Yetziyot Mitzrayim, the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt.
If I were to boil down to a few words, the attributes of my Mother, a bat Kohen, those words would match the attributes of Aaron HaKohen: constancy of service, kindness, humility, efficiency, the ability to elicit the implicit trust of others.
Remembering back decades, I recall that my Mother was often told by my Grandmother, my Father’s Mother, that she considered my Mother more like a daughter than a daughter-in-law. And my Grandparents Burt, for decades, entrusted to my Mother the writing of checks and keeping their checkbook when the family bills needed to be paid.
She was my Father’s help-mate, and they both made one neshama — the proverbial melding of two people bonding as one soul, faithfully, constantly for all of the seventy-plus years of their marriage. Aside from hospitalizations for injuries, childbirths and surgical procedures over the years, the few times when my Father couldn’t accompany us on trips to Montreal for Simchas due to his having to work, or a few trips my Mother took with her close friend, our cousin Bea Horowitz, I cannot recall a day, ever, in their marriage when my parents were apart. There was never a “Claire, I have to go out of town on business for a few days” on any such thing.
I’ve told over numerous times during the Shiva period how my parents met; how my Father was a gunnery instructor in what was then known as the “Army Air Corps”, and stationed in Newfoundland in either 1943 or 1944. He met up with another Yid, Dudi, from Montreal, Quebec, Canada– my Mother’s cousin. Dudi connected them and they began corresponding. Eventually they met and later married in Philadelphia on January 7, 1945, 22 Chodesh Tevet, 5705.
My Mother was protective, perhaps over-protective of me as I grew up. I guess it could be expected, for she bore inner, emotional scars from her earliest childhood — her birth-Mother passing away in childbirth with another child, when my Mother was but two years old, nearly losing my Father, mere days after their wedding when their honeymoon hotel burned to the ground — my Father’s life saved due to the advent of penicillin which in 1945 was administered only to US military personnel, the birth nine months later of a daughter destined to pass away at two years due to the genetic disorder – Tay Sachs which, at that time, was unknown to, and confounded American doctors. In fact, it was only once she took the daughter to a doctor in Montreal, that the child was diagnosed as having Tay Sachs. B’H, later in life, I was tested and found not to be a carrier of the gene.
In my early childhood years in a North Philly post-World War 2 community, we lived at 10th and Butler St., a corner house with a store front — my parents together operated a Mom ‘n Pop grocery store for about 6 years. As an only child who was shy, introverted; attending a public school, I was a child written off by a cruel, arrogant first grade teacher as being backward, retarded, seen as never amounting to anything. My Mother was one who fought for her child’s future by having me tested numerous times and by being active in that school’s PTA for as long as we lived in that community.
As I grew to be a teenager, I found it embarrassing when, on occasion when I’d be out too late with friends, the calls around the neighborhood would begin until I returned home. But, despite my embarrassment, the feedback I heard about, from other parents, was of admiration for my Mother.
Here, I want to add what I consider a cute anecdote about my Mother: I always knew my Mother had a fixation with concern about their checkbook and their checking account balance, but during a discussion between my uncle Stanley and I in November, my uncle related to me about my Mother’s fixation by using the term “anal” regarding her concern for their checkbook and maintaining the checkbook balance up-to-date, making sure that all checks and deposits were entered, balance footed down, etc.
This anecdote is indicative of the attention my Mother paid to details. I have inherited this mido, this trait of attentiveness to detail, often to a fault. But having this attribute has benefited me through the years, at work as an accountant and later a controller, with chesed projects such as The Sefer Torah Recycling Network, or my making aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1999, and most recently, factoring into my decision-making during my Mother’s major medical crisis in mid-September to October, 2014 regarding bringing my Mother to Vitas Hospice care who treated her as she remained with my Father at my parents’ assisted living facility, and saw to my Mother’s comfort.
My Mother’s nurturing was a crucial factor of my Jewish/Israel consciousness from my earliest cognizance in life. I’m proud of the fact that in my nearly 67 years, there has always been an Israel — in Eretz Yisrael. My Mother saw to assuring my Jewish identity by way of employing a Hebrew tutor for me at seven or eight years old (I don’t remember which year) who taught me the alef/bet — block and cursive, gave me initial lessons in reading, taught me Birkat HaTorah –the Brachot when called to the Torah for an Aliyah and more. My Mother also saw to sending me for two years to an afternoon, after-school Hebrew school at Gratz College, a school then highly regarded in conservative Jewish circles in Philadelphia.
Regarding Gratz College, it gave me a firmer basis in some Jewish fundamentals, but after a couple of years, and with our family moving from North Philly to the Northeast, to 1825 Carwithan St., it became difficult for my parents to continue paying the tuition costs, and so I felt that it wasn’t right for me to continue. And so, my Mother saw to it that I enroll in a Hebrew school at a synagogue close to home to learn what was needed for my Bar Mitzvah.
In addition to being the pillar of keeping house, my Mother worked outside of the house as a secretary/bookkeeper for two companies in the plumbing supply field. She was active in a local Hadassah chapter in Philadelphia, attaining it’s presidency which she held for a couple of years.
My Mother was inward, family-oriented beyond just my Father and I, and two sets of my grandparents and siblings from both families. She was a regular at the monthly cousins club and at other family events in Philadelphia and was loved by all.
She, and my Father instilled in me a sense of values and morality based in Jewish ways which has manifested in my adult life.
A little over seven months ago, last September and early October, my Mother was seriously ill, and it was thought that the end was near. But she rallied miraculously, thanks to Hashem’s kindness in giving us more time with her. And sincere, heartfelt thanks go out for the limitless kindnesses of Eric Weitkamp and his staff — Freedom Partners of South Florida, of the team of nurses and aides at “The Bridge” — my parents’ assisted living facility, and to the team at Vitas Hospice.
I know that I speak for my Father, and for my Mother’s siblings; Ruth Meides, Stanley Schwartz and Shirley Blum in expressing that my Mother: Chaya bat Zalman merits by her many Meisim Tovim, her many good and kind ways and acts in life — one month short of 92 years, an Aliyah — a going up directly to Shemayim. Amen!